One Man’s Story of Maintaining Judaism in the Face of Soviet Tyranny

In 1972, a Soviet Jewish systems engineer named Yitzchak Kogan found out that the technology he was working on was being shipped to Egypt and Syria. Unable to stomach the idea of aiding the Jewish state’s enemies, he applied for permission to leave for Israel. Although fourteen years elapsed before he and his wife obtained exit visas, they were immediately fired from the jobs. The two returned to Russia in 1991, just five years after gaining their freedom, and Kogan became the rabbi of a Moscow synagogue, and remains active in Jewish communal and religious life.

From his childhood on, Kogan—known among Chabad Ḥasidim as the tsaddik (righteous man) of Leningrad—obtained a Jewish education and observed Jewish practices in defiance of the regime, and sometimes at great personal risk. Dovid Margolin writes:

As soon as Kogan began attending Soviet public school, his parents hired the first of a string of m’lamdim, Jewish religious teachers, to come to their home. . . . It was not only what the old men taught Kogan that he absorbed, but what they left unsaid. Each of them, without exception, had suffered for his beliefs at the hands of the Communist regime. [One] teacher, Rabbi Berel Medalia, was the son of Rabbi Shmarya Leib Medalia, a Lubavitcher Ḥasid who served as chief rabbi of Moscow before being arrested and executed by Stalin in 1938; three of Rabbi Shmarya Leib’s sons were likewise arrested. Berel Medalia served something like a decade in the Gulag system. . . . Despite everything, in addition to teaching children like the Kogans, over the years Medalia became a quiet Jewish influence on many young refuseniks.

As Kogan’s bar mitzvah approached in the summer of 1959, his mother feared the ceremony would summon unwanted interest from the authorities, and turned to the recently released [from imprisonment] Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein for advice. Epstein instructed her to hold the bar mitzvah in a small summer vacation town outside Leningrad. “He also said that Papa shouldn’t be there,” Kogan explains. “Instead of my father, Rabbi Epstein made the Barukh she-p’tarani [the blessing a father recites at his sons’ bar mitzvah].”

Kogan would later train to be a ritual slaughterer, in order to provide Leningrad’s Jews with kosher meat, and served as a sort of unofficial rabbi for his fellow refuseniks:

Among the many young Jewish refuseniks who credit the Kogans’ assistance on their path to Judaism were Lev and Marina Furman, who first connected with them in 1974. They would recall joining about 50 others at the Kogans’ apartment for their first kosher Passover seder. Other communal activities at the Kogan home included Hebrew and Jewish study circles and Purim shpils.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Chabad.org

More about: Refuseniks, Soviet Jewry

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror